The One Word That Finally Helped Me Get Happier — When Nothing Else Worked
When you Google, "how to be," the first suggested word is "happy." The pursuit of happiness is a theme that is prevalent throughout our lives: We talk about getting our happy endings and living happily ever after; we say we "just want our kids to be happy." We read articles on increasing our happiness, and when deciding something, we often go with the option that is supposed to make us happier.
Hey, I get it. Nobody likes to feel the pain and discomfort of feelings like sadness, failure, and frustration. It's so much easier to try to gloss over these feelings like they're a yucky cold you just want to get rid of and not think about it again, right? And it doesn't help that common advice for handling these types of feelings are to just "Cheer up; everything will be all right" or "Don't dwell on the negative!" But by trying to sail past the darkness, we miss potentially beautiful things in the darkness that will stay with us forever, and continue to teach us during the ups and downs.
Happiness vs. wholeness.
The way I see it, happiness tends to be circumstantial—we rely on outcomes and sets of circumstances to give us those fuzzy feelings and smiles, but contentment and joy are deeper-rooted feelings that are cultivated within and are more pervasive in the way we live. When we’re so insistent upon heralding happiness as the only thing to pursue, we set ourselves up for intolerance to sadness, fear, and those feelings that are even more painful. Our society has become so fixated on gaining and retaining happiness rather than chasing wholeness. It leaves us vulnerable to when those inevitable feelings of pain occur because we’re so avoidant of them and don’t develop the tools for how to use them the same way we do with happiness.
Throughout some of the bigger challenges in my life with my athletic career and disordered eating, my autoimmune disease, and losing my dad, I’ve learned that I am able to experience so much more joy and contentment when striving for the wholeness of life over striving solely for happiness. I’ve discovered that however deep I allow those painful feelings to get, the fuller the capacity I create for feeling joy and satisfaction. It’s especially important now for me with the volatile ups and downs that come with being a startup founder because I’m able to gain contentment from embracing both the ups and the downs since I no longer place value only on happiness or a successful outcome. The spectrum of emotions is what it means to be human. By trying to repress or turn off our negative feelings, we turn off our ability to experience positive ones as well—we cannot selectively shut off feelings we don’t enjoy.
I only began to understand the things that truly fulfilled me once I let go of the relentless chase for this socially created structure of "happiness." Learning how to live wholeheartedly is what allowed me to be the type of person that truly appreciates those fleeting moments of happiness as well as the ability to cultivate a deeper sense of joy, optimism, and contentment regardless of the ups and downs of life.
It’s a practice in perspective, so I want to share the four things that have helped me shift my outlook on life and be more fulfilled than ever before:
1. Stop trying to "fix" your feelings.
Your feelings don’t break and are not something to "fix"—and you'll likely find you feel more free than ever once you let go of this.
2. Ask yourself "How?" "Why?" then "What?"
When something happens, ask yourself how it makes you feel. Identify and vocalize those emotions, then ask yourself why you think you feel this way. Then ask yourself this: What effect does this have on you, and what can you do to work through those emotions?
3. Let go and let yourself be taken along for the ride.
The next time you feel those uncomfortable feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, or anger, turn toward them and go along with it. Let them just exist—mentally pull up a chair for them, and let them hang out for a while. They leave on their own when they’re ready after they feel like they’ve been acknowledged and heard—they tend to stick around when you try to force them out or ignore them.
4. Ask yourself, "Does this contribute to my wholeness?" rather than, "Does this make me happy?"
Every emotion and experience has its place. If the present situation serves as something that grows you and contributes to the fullness of your life, it is absolutely worthwhile.
Want more ideas for how to get happier? Here's what the research says about money and happiness.